What to Feed Deer Instead of Corn?

What to Feed Deer Instead of Corn

As a hunter, you might have used corn to lure deer into your hunting area. And why wouldn’t you? Corn is cheap, deer love them, and it acts as one of the best baits to use for whitetails. But that might not always be the case. This is because deer are ruminants, meaning they have a unique four-chamber stomach. A deer will eat almost anything in front of them, but their stomach can only digest a few of the things they eat. And corn is one such food that they might struggle to digest!

So what to feed deer instead of corn? A deer’s stomach makes it difficult to give a safe suggestion. Your job as a hunter is to hunt them ethically, meaning not to overhunt or put them in any further danger. There are corn alternatives to feed the deer, but it really is dependent on the time of year and how habituated they are to the food. So read on and find out the risks of feeding deer and how to feed them.

Key Takeaways

  • A deer’s diet changes from season to season depending on what type of food they need for that particular season.
  • Corn is not always good for deer so instead of corn, you can use alternatives that will benefit your hunt and the deer population.
  • Gravity deer feeders are a good way to both give food to the deer and help your hunts.
  • There are risks involved with feeding a deer so be wary about the consequences of feeding deer.

Deer Dietary Needs for Different Seasons

There are risks to feeding a deer, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t feed them at all! Corn is good for deer because they can digest it properly. But it lacks the protein content that deer need to survive during certain times of the year.

Therefore, before knowing the alternatives to corn, you as a hunter should know the type of diet a deer requires over the course of a year.

So let’s have a look at what nutrition they need over the time of year.

Deer Dietary Needs for Different Seasons
Deer Dietary Needs for Different Seasons

Spring: high protein diet

Fresh off winter, this is when deer will want to grow their body and antlers. New spring grass is available to supplement their protein and energy needs. For bucks, they will want to eat a high protein diet (about 20% protein) to grow bigger in body and antler size. Does on the other hand will need to grow their body because they are most likely pregnant during this time. They need the protein for fawn rearing during the summer.

Summer: protein and carbohydrates

As spring rolls into summer, the nutrition needs of deer change with it. Bucks will need the protein to grow their antlers and prepare for the upcoming rutting season for competition against other bucks. Does will need to recover their body after giving birth so they need ample amounts of protein and carbohydrates. They also need to provide food for their fawns to grow. Fawns require more protein as they are at the stage of growing their body and preparing for colder weather to come.

Fall: high fat and carbohydrates

Early fall is when the rutting season starts so bucks will need a high burst of energy as they will be fighting other bucks. That is where carbohydrates will give them the extra energy needed for this time. They will also be preparing themselves for the winter. That is why they will be needing to get as fat as possible for the winter chill to come. So the bucks will change their diet from early to late fall, while fawns and does will maintain a high-fat diet throughout the season.

Winter: high-protein

With a lack of carbohydrates and fatty food available, deer will switch to a more protein-heavy diet from the bark of trees and fallen nuts. A high-protein will give the deer the energy they need to roam around and survive the winter while also not having to eat all that much to do so.

So with that information, it is much safer to recommend alternatives to corn.

Alternatives to Corn

Knowing what deer eat during the different seasons will make that you as a hunter are ethical in your hunting. It is important to feed them the correct thing or you risk endangering the whole herd of deer in an area. This is why corn is not always good to be used as bait.

So let’s look at some of the alternatives to corn that you can use, and which season it is better to introduce the food as well! I shall include my recommendations so you won’t give them too much or too little feed.



Oats are a good alternative to corn because they have both high protein and carbohydrate content, not to mention high fiber content as well. Because deer are used to eating oats from late fall to early winter, they will not be in any danger from eating them.

  • Nutritional Value: High in protein and carbohydrates
  • Season for Feeding: Late fall to early winter
  • Recommendation: Give natural oats, introduce in small quantities during mid-fall, and don’t give more than 1 pail of oats.

Rice bran

Rice bran
Rice bran

For winter feed, rice bran will the perfect due to its high fat and phosphorus content. The phosphorus will help the deer with its antler growth. However, they don’t provide much else in nutritional value. They are a good alternative to corn if what the deer needs is its high-fat content.

  • Nutritional Value: High in fat and phosphorus
  • Season for Feeding: All of winter
  • Recommendation: If the deer are not used to rice bran, introduce it in small quantities to get them used to it. Feed through a natural deer feed.



Corn only has about 10% protein, whereas soybeans contain 30%! This is great for deer during the spring when they are starting to recover from winter and need a lot of protein. However, don’t overfeed deer soybeans because a deer diet should not have more than 25% protein content.

  • Nutritional Value: High in protein.
  • Season for Feeding: Spring and early summer.
  • Recommendation: Introduce them sparingly after winter ends to get the deer used to it. Don’t give too much due to the high protein content.



As deer are used to foraging, alfalfa grass is a great alternative to corn to give deer. They have about 15% protein content and loads of minerals and vitamins such as A, D, E, and K which deer need for growth. They have low fat and carbohydrates.

  • Nutritional Value: Protein and vitamins A, D, E, and K.
  • Season for Feeding: Late spring and all of summer
  • Recommendation: Plant some alfalfa grass around the areas that you will be hunting in at the start of spring. This will make the deer more used to the alfalfa and be natural as possible.



Turnips are great for deer due to their high protein value. As winter sets in, the turnips become richer in glucose due to a chemical reaction with the cold. This makes turnips a good source of protein and carbohydrates, for both fall and winter. They are also resistant to the winter cold so they are available for deer to eat.

  • Nutritional Value: High in protein and carbohydrates
  • Season for Feeding: Fall and winter
  • Recommendation: The deer will eat the whole turnip so you can use it all. Cut them up into bite-size pieces so that the deer can eat them from a feeder easily. Deer will also dig the turnips out so there is the option of planting turnips in your hunting areas.



In the winter, deer will forage for nuts that are fallen to the ground. They provide minerals and proteins for deer as well as have a lot of unsaturated fat, perfect for deer that need a high-fat diet in the winter.

  • Nutritional Value: Rich in minerals and high-fat content.
  • Season for Feeding: Winter.
  • Recommendation: Deer do not like hard shells of nuts such as acorns, pecans, and walnuts but love to eat what is inside. So break the shell before introducing them in deer feeds.

So instead of feeding deer corn all year round, it is better to give them these alternatives so that they match the dietary needs of the deer. The next problem to face is how to feed them.

How to Feed a Deer Using a Deer Feed?

How to Feed a Deer Using a Deer Feeder
How to Feed a Deer Using a Deer Feeder

Deer are cautious animals, easily spooked by the slightest noise. This is a problem for us hunters because we cannot directly feed them as they will run away. And another problem is other animals like squirrels will also eat the food that you provide for the deer. To add to that, dropping them to the ground will spoil the food faster.

To solve these problems of feeding a deer, especially for hunting, deer feeders are game changers. These will protect the food from other animals and preserve the food for a longer time.

Simply set up a gravity feeder around the area where you will hunt. The food inside the feeder will attract the deer and make sure that the deer will only eat as much as they need. You could also hang a plastic bag on a tree branch with the food inside, but other animals and birds might break them.

Another type of gravity feeder is the battery-powered feeder. These periodically drop the food to the ground so it feels natural for the deer to approach the food. The only problem with this is the fact that other animals will also eat them from the ground.

The good thing about a feeder is that you can introduce a mix of corn alternatives mentioned above! That way, the deer have all the nutrients they need for their seasonal dietary needs.

Risks of Feeding Deer

Risks of Feeding Deer
Risks of Feeding Deer

As I have mentioned already, deer have peculiar stomachs that can’t digest everything they eat. They have to be used to eating the food or else they won’t be able to digest the food. This makes it risky to feed deer. Here are some of the ways that feeding deer poses a risk for the deer population.

Cannot digest

They lack enzymes in the stomach which help break down the food so that the body can absorb the nutrients. That is why if you introduce food such as bread that is not found naturally in the wild, you risk harming the deer. Even giving them too much hay might be a problem because the deer will think their stomachs are full but their stomachs can’t digest them. Thus, they will die from starving with a full stomach.

Diseases from indigestion

Giving them the wrong food will likely result in them getting diseases. One such disease is known as chronic wasting disease (CWD). Simply speaking, it is when protein becomes folded and not gotten rid of from the body due to not digesting protein properly. What is worse is that it is transferable from animal to animal through simple contact. As you can see, something as simple as the indigestion of one deer might kill the whole herd!

Creating dependence

Another thing to worry about is creating dependence, especially for younger fawns. Deer are a creature of habit and they have a certain path they will take to forage. Introducing deer feed will disrupt their natural habit and they will wait for food at those areas and not forage at all!

So be wary about feeding the deer and don’t overfeed them. Otherwise, you put the whole deer population at risk!


Can you feed carrots to deer instead of corn?

Deer loves carrot but the problem is it is like candy to the deer. They provide little nutritional value for the deer and disrupt their diet.

What happens when deer eat too much hay?

If the deer is not accustomed to eating hay, it will not be able to digest it. This will make the deer die of starvation on a full stomach because they won’t understand that they are not digesting the food.

What is the best thing to feed a deer?

The best thing to feed a deer is food that they are accustomed to liking grass, nuts, and other things they forage. However, a healthy balance of food, with about 20% protein, is what a deer should be eating.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it! Corn might be cheap and deer love them but they don’t fulfill the dietary needs of the deer. That is why oats, rice bran, soybeans, alfalfa, turnips, and nuts are great food for deer instead of corn. Not only are you hunting more effectively with these alternatives, but you are also properly feeding the deer population too. So go out there and use these for your bait and you are sure to hunt some deer. Happy hunting!

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